Robyn Reviews: We Lie With Death

‘We Lie With Death’ is the sequel to ‘We Ride the Storm‘, and again was originally self-published before Madson’s deal with Orbit. It picks up immediately where ‘We Ride the Storm’ left off – but where the former was action-packed military fantasy, ‘We Lie With Death’ is slower, with far more journeying than politics. It’s a clear second in a series, which unfortunately makes it a less engaging read.

Northern Kisia has been conquered, with a new emperor on the throne. However, his rule is fragile, depending on uneasy alliances – including with those many would rather see dead. Amidst the chaos of rebel factions, political maneuverings, and a land fractured in two, Rah e-Torin – once head of the Second Swords of Torin – must decide where his loyalties truly lie. Meanwhile, Miko, the dethroned empress, determines to claw back her crown, with allies thinner and thinner on the ground. Cassandra, once an assassin of renown, finds herself a slave – but also privy to information that could change the course of the entire war. Finally, Dishiva e’Jaroven, loyal to the new emperor, tries to reconcile herself to her new life – no matter how foreign and distasteful it might seem.

Cassandra was the most interesting character in book one, and here she’s finally utilised to her full potential. Her arc is completely separate to the other characters, exploring the backstory and magic system of Madson’s world, and it makes a compelling tale. Cassandra cares little for politics or war, but her revelations will likely be more important for how everything ends up than every other character’s put together.

Rah remains a genuinely nice man – but his honour also makes him a frustrating one at times. His loyalty is absolute – except he isn’t always sure what he’s being loyal too. His internal struggles are well-written and convincing, and while he doesn’t develop greatly from ‘We Ride the Storm’, he remains hard to dislike. Without a major character arc, he likely could have been given less page time – but it’s pleasant enough being inside his head.

Miko has lost everything except her name, and how she copes should be fascinating to read about. As a character she’s excellent – not always nice, and perhaps not with the best motives beyond a stubborn desire to cling on to power, but utterly believable – but unfortunately, her scenes suffer from the fact that very little actually happens. Miko spends the majority of the book travelling, attempting to find allies – and while Madson does her best to add tidbits of interest, the sheer length of the book makes this hard to wade through. Her scenes pick up hugely towards the end, but it’s unnecessary challenging to get there.

Dishiva is the only new POV character, and her introduction packs a punch – but from there, she goes a bit downhill. She’s the least memorable of the four characters, so while she has some excellent scenes – and provides much-needed insight into the workings of the new empire – she doesn’t entirely justify her inclusion. She’s possibly a tad too similar to Rah, and struggles to stand up in comparison. That being said, her romantic arc is sweet, and hopefully she’ll come into her own as the series develops.

The pacing is where this falls down compared to its predecessor. It’s too slow, with occasional action scenes so quick they give you whiplash. The abrupt change lacks any real impact, instead leaving confusion. There are some excellent moments, and I love the deeper discoveries around Cassandra and the background magic, but overall this just doesn’t flow well. It also feels its nearly 600 pages in length, rather than pulling you in and allowing the pages to flow by.

In summary, ‘We Lie With Death’ expands upon the excellent foundations of ‘We Ride the Storm’, but it isn’t quite the same standard. I’ll probably continue with the series, but I hope any future books iron out the issues in pacing. Recommended to fans of political fantasy and A Song of Ice and Fire (if you made it through book three, the journeying here will seem like a short stroll in comparison).

Thanks to Orbit for providing an ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Paperback: 14th January 2021

Robyn Reviews: We Ride The Storm

We Ride The Storm is true epic fantasy – multiple points of view across multiple factions in a world on the brink of war. It’s a delight following all the separate pieces on the board and musing how they might come together. The plot twists and turns with plenty of action and intrigue; I was always curious to know what would happen next.

The chapters alternate between three characters – Miko, Cassandra, and Rah – and all of them are fantastic. Miko is the sister of Tanaka, the apparent heir to Emperor Kin and ruler of the Kisia. Better at politics and far less rash than her brother, she wishes that it were she who had been born a boy and might someday rule the Empire. I loved her – she was strong and witty but real, still regularly outplayed and at the whims of her emotions. I’d want her on my side in a fight.

Cassandra is the most intriguing character but the least well utilised. A sex worker and assassin from Chiltae, Cassandra seduces men then kills them for whoever pays her the most. But there’s more to her than there seems, and she’s driven by motives stronger than money. When Cassandra was introduced, I thought she would be my favourite – but her role in this is smaller than the other main characters, and – without giving any spoilers – there’s only so many times you can end a chapter by blacking out. Hopefully she plays a stronger role in future books.

Rah is the head of the Second Swords of Torin, a tribe of horsemen from the Levanti. He and his Swords are searching for Gideon, head of the First Swords of Torin, who disappeared on an excursion into Chiltae nearly two years ago. Rah is a delight – loyal to his Swords and his customs but playing at a game with bigger stakes than he understands. He’s the sort of friend everyone needs – supportive but will always challenge you if he thinks you’re doing wrong.

We Ride The Storm was originally self-published, and came to prominence in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog-Off, an annual competition to find the best self-published science fiction and fantasy. It was subsequently picked up by Orbit for re-publication. Having not read the original self-published version, I don’t know how much Orbit have edited it, but I can say it’s a little rough around the edges. The plot is fast-paced and enjoyable and leaves you rooting for the characters, but some of the transitions are a little clunky. I suspect that this will be ironed out in the sequels and am excited to see how they further develop Madson’s writing.

The biggest issue I had was with the ending – it’s a complete cliffhanger, to the extent that it doesn’t feel like the ending of a book. It would be more appropriate as the end of a ‘Part One’. Still, it means that I’ll need to pick up book two which is probably what the author intended…

Overall, this is a solid addition to the epic fantasy genre. Recommended for fans of stories about revolutions and war – especially fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and the Stormlight Archives.

   

Published by Orbit
Paperback: 25th June 2020